Our Neighbor’s Cries: They Keep on Passin’ Us By

silenceI walk into the dimly-lit Downtown Fresno restaurant and immediately sense the sorrow. The grieving. Another black man shot and killed at the hands of a police officer (R.I.P. #terencecrutcher).

I listen intently to the owners, two friendly and intelligent Black-businessmen, expressing their pain and anger towards a justice system that seemingly doesn’t care.

“They won’t even see a court room—watch. They’ll reward them with paid administrative leave” (note: Officer Betty Shelby has, at the time of writing, been placed on paid administrative leave).

The next day I drive ten miles North of Downtown Fresno, stopping at a local Starbucks in River Park, overhearing various conversations concerning everything from the latest iPhone 7 release, to how the landscaping company didn’t “get it right the first time.”

Scattered among those conversations were socio-political rhetoric concerning Kaepernick, and how the San Francisco 49ers franchise should be boycotted altogether. How, what Kaepernick was doing (read more here), was a slap in the face to American freedom, and those who fought and died for it (a statement which, in and of itself, is self-defeating to the very ideology of “freedom”).

As I’m leaving Starbucks, I find myself acutely aware that no one in the northernmost parts of Fresno seemed to know what was happening in Tulsa. Let alone care.

In fact, I hung out around white evangelicals all day, and not a word of the atrocity that happened in Tulsa was spoken.

Not a whisper.

While the cries of pain from our Black brothers and sisters grows louder, and clearer, the silence of our people grows quieter.

Not that we  are quiet. By no means. We’re just selective as to what we speak up about.

When it comes to battling against the legality of abortion, we speak up.

When it comes to denouncing same-sex marriages, we speak up.

When it comes to exposing and correcting false doctrine, we speak up.

When it comes to nationalistic fervor, and decrying the actions of Kaepernick, and others, we speak up.

But when it comes to the acts of injustices against men and women of color: we remain silent.

Hip-hop artist LeCrae Moore captures the essence of the issue when he boldly exclaims:

            Take a knee… people riot.

            Take a bullet… people quiet.

In Luke 10, Jesus answers the hostile questioning of a lawyer, who was attempting to trap Jesus into some sort of permissible loophole within the law of love that requires that you “love your neighbor as yourself.”

“And who is my neighbor,” the lawyer asks.

Jesus answers the lawyer’s question, despite the apparent insincerity of the man, by telling a parable.

A man gets robbed and left for dead along a road to Jericho.

Two men. A priest, and a Levite (helped police the Temple) see the man, bleeding and almost breathless, and they do not stop, and they do not ask if he is alright or in need of help.

What do they do, you ask?

They pass by.

And that’s the problem.

That’s the problem of the religious leaders that Jesus begins to address: they just pass by.

They’ll get in an uproar over a healing on the Sabbath, or they’ll uphold the letter of the Law over the spirit of the Law.

They’ll pay their tithes, and they’ll roll to the synagogue daily to “worship” God, while “[neglecting] justice and the love of God” (Luke 11:42).

But true love requires more. It doesn’t just “pass by.”

True love is willing to heal on the Sabbath. True love is willing to risk being thought of as “unclean,” in order to serve the needs of someone else.

True love requires that we quit passing by the injustices of our day, and begin to stop and listen to the cries and the concerns of those around us. Our neighbors.

Love pushes us to go beyond what we perceive or presuppose, and empowers us to lay aside our preferences and our biases for the sake of others. Our neighbors.

And right now the black community is grieving. Right now, our neighbors are grieving.

Will we pass by, going about the busyness of our lives, while ignoring the burdens of others?

Or will we stop, listen, lend a hand, and learn to love beyond our own self-centeredness?

 

NOTE: I realize that there are some white evangelicals who are speaking to these issues, and who are leveraging their resources against the injustices of our day. However, as a white man, I’ve found, at least in the city of Fresno, that white-evangelicalism is still, by and large, very much silent.

Segregated Sunday: The Church and the Problem of Preference

churchesEveryone has preferences. Everyone.

When my wife and I wrap up a busy day by vegging out on some random series on Netflix, we typically discuss first what we’d like to watch.

Ultimately, I usually end up laying aside my preference for Law & Order, or the like, so that she can indulge in Everybody Loves Raymond re-runs (oh, the torturous boredom). And maybe, just maybe, sometimes she lets me watch what I like to watch.

Okay, that was a lie, it’s more like a lot of the time she lets me have my way.

But the point is that we are a preferential people.

There are some things in life that we like, enjoy, prefer, while other things—not so much.

We have preferences when it comes to music, food, clothing, cars, sports, and so on. These preferences often shape how we think, feel, and act throughout our lives.

And at a much a deeper level, this truth even applies in our relationships and interactions with others.

More often than not, our preferences are the natural byproduct of the shaping influences of the people, culture, education, and experiences around us.

In the 1940s, during the time of Jim Crowe-regulated segregation within school systems, there was a group of psychologists that performed an experiment dubbed, “The Doll Tests.”

These tests used dolls with different skin colors in order to measure the racial perception of children, ranging from ages three to seven.

When asked to identify the race of each doll, as well as which doll they preferred, African-American children often chose the white doll, believing that the white doll was cleaner, purer, and more beautiful than all others. The phycologists then concluded that “prejudice, discrimination, and segregation created a feeling of inferiority among African-American children and damaged their self-esteem.”

What a travesty. These African-American children had been so indoctrinated by racism, that they did not even prefer to be whom they had been created to be.

The preferences of the majority culture—in this case, white America—had reshaped the way minorities saw themselves, and in so doing, motivated them to abandon their cultural uniqueness for a more “acceptable” norm. Whiteness had become an idol to attain.

Fast-forward to today, and we find churches all over America, that are defined by a majority culture.

Just look around in American-church culture and you’ll find pictures of messianic whiteness, portraying Jesus with flowing blonde hair, and baby blue eyes.

A culture calling for others to assimilate, or be cast aside as an outsider, while incidentally being dis-fellowshipped from the life of the church.

They may not do so explicitly, but it is apparent in the very way in which they organize and clique-up around their commonalities and preferences (often having nothing to do with their commonality in Christ), while failing to invite others who look, think, and act differently than they do into their immediate circles.

Our churches are fine with cultural assimilation—that is, come on in, so long as you can adjust and adapt to our standards—rather than allowing structural assimilation—or, equal opportunity access to lead and to influence—to re-shape a church culture in to one that defies homogenous communities, and celebrates the beauty of unity amidst diversity. That we are all created equally, yet differently, in the image of God.

But sadly enough, our churches don’t want that.

Preferential treatment is the new segregation within the American church. Who needs Jim Crowe?

Sure you can come and sit among us. We just won’t acknowledge that you are there. We won’t love and enter in to a relationship with you like we do with others who look more like us.

The opposite of love is not hate. It’s indifference. And just because you are a diverse congregation, does not mean that you are a reconciled congregation.

In order to overcome indifference, and break down the barriers that hinder us from living and growing together as the body of Christ, it’s going to take some work.

It’s going to take the willingness to work hard and to see it through. It’s going to have to be motivated by something—or Someone—greater than ourselves.

In Christian community, it goes without saying that our chief motivation is found in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

The finished work of Jesus Christ is the reason that all are welcomed into the household of God; that we are no longer at enmity with God.

The Cross of Christ was the very reason that Paul himself was able to set aside his preferences around Jews and Gentiles, the weak and the strong—indeed, all people—so that he might be a witness and a testament to the love of God that is in Christ Jesus (1 Cor. 9:19-23).

It is the love of God, through our Crucified King, that has broken down the dividing wall of bitterness, fear, and anger towards one another, so that we might be brought together as one people, united in Christ (Eph. 2:11-22).

Jesus Himself, motivated by His love for us and His obedience to the Father, set aside His preference to remain in constant fellowship with God, by becoming sin and taking the weight of the wrath of God onto Himself, in order to save and to sanctify us.

And if we are to ever reflect the sort of unity and oneness that Jesus prays for in John 17, then it is going to require us to crucify our preferences.

It’s going to require you to embrace the Hip-Hop head with a hug after church, invite the family on welfare over for dinner—not to feed them, but to know them—and spark a conversation with the strange tattooed couple during life group.

It’s going to require us to deconstruct the false belief that you have to become white, or rich, or well educated, or any other thing in order to be accepted by God, and others.

It’s going to require us to admit that the African-American child’s decision to choose the white doll is a direct result of White America’s own racist actions and ideologies.

It’s going to require that we, in turn, let the the African-American child know that it’s okay to prefer the black doll, because black is beautiful. Black is the image of God.

It’s going to require the setting aside of our own preferences, and preferring one another instead.

That’s the essence of fellowship. That’s the Church.

When I Suck At Parenting

df1ac3e3d25dd89f_509028451.xxxlarge_2xIt’s been a rough week.

In fact, these past couple of weeks have been extremely rough, for me.

With major life changes, coupled with the busyness of work, it’s easy for this reforming-knucklehead to get stressed out and err on the side of becoming selfish and angry.

That’s no bueno.

I think that the most difficult part of this sort of “crazy season” is that my family often ends up suffering the most.

I go from being Super Dad (okay, maybe an exaggeration) to Sucky Dad.

The stress I feel translates into undeserved anger towards my children, motivated more out of irritation and inconvenience rather than a sincere desire to love and to lead them.

I yell and grit my teeth in wonder as to why they won’t “listen” to me and do what I ask of them.

But it doesn’t work. It never works.

The problem remains.

And if I’m honest, the problem isn’t my children. The problem is Troy.

My issue is that, by nature, I suck at parenting.

But I am beginning to discover that when I suck at parenting, it’s mostly correlated to the absence of three vital components of biblically-driven parenting: communication, discipline, and the Gospel.

Communication

When I was a child, I can remember the sort of discipline I would receive like it was yesterday. For the most part, it was purely physical. At one point, the authorities were involved because I had gone to school bruised up from the beating I had received the day before.

This sort of child abuse was normative for me, if not from my father, then from others within my immediate family. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve discovered that there was something missing from the discipline I received in my younger years—aside from being loved, rather than beaten, of course—namely, communication.

To explain to my children what not to do, without the why, often leaves them frustrated and confused.

Sure, don’t touch the stove little Noah, but why not? Communication with our children requires that we talk with them, teach them, encourage them, rebuke them, and forgive them, when necessary.

But communication should never be only one-sided. As Dr. Tedd Tripp so accurately maintains: “we [may] think of ourselves as talking to our children. Instead, you should seek to talk with your children. Communication is not monologue. It’s dialogue.”[1]

In short, I’m not to preach at my kiddos from my parental pulpit, but rather, communicate with them and listen to them in ways that reveal my love for them, and my desire to see them grow into the children God intends for them to be.[2]

Discipline

God’s Word teaches us that He disciplines those He loves.[3] Fatherly discipline, as exhibited by our own Heavenly Father, ought to stem from a parent’s own love for his or her children. Not from the anger of embarrassment or unmet expectations.

You see it all of the time. Parents lashing out at their children because they are embarrassing them in public. I’m certainly guilty.

Then there are those parents who let their children run freely and do as they please. These parents claim that they are doing so out of “love,” but they are actually acting out of indifference; the exact opposite of love.

In sparing the rod of discipline, we only spoil our children[4], depriving them of the much-needed structure and reproof necessary in guiding them down the path to life.

The Gospel

Perhaps the most neglected aspect of parenting—at least in my experience—is my failure to apply the Gospel of grace and mercy amidst my children’s disobedience, as a rebellious, disobedient child myself.

Sure, they’re little sinners. But so am I.

And much like I need to receive and lay hold of the Gospel each day in my own life, so must I remember to share and live out that same Good News with my own children.

To love them despite how unlovable they may be at times.

So when my son or daughter misbehaves and I take every good thing away from them (e.g. Star Wars toys, etc.), I must be reminded of my own ever-present tendencies to sin. Yet God, being rich in mercy, still chooses to lavish me with good and perfect gifts, despite my wretchedness.

Maybe, just maybe, all my children really want is to be in my presence, much like I desire to be in my Heavenly Father’s presence.

Maybe I spend far too much time at the office, on my cell phone, or _______ (fill in the blank), rather than enjoying and investing in the lives of my children.

In our society today, we can spend ourselves wildly trying to become better parents by reading parenting guides, and attending parenting classes and conferences.

And while these should certainly be seen as valuable tools, there is nothing that can replace the knowledge and experience we glean from looking to our Heavenly Father, as a supreme example of what it looks like to train our children up in the way that they should go.[5]

Nothing can replace the fact that I partook in God’s creativity when I laid with my wife, and witnessed the beauty of our newly born child–made in God’s image. If that’s not enough to drive a man or a woman to love their children unconditionally, then one must not have a healthy view of God or humanity.

The Gospel is more than just God’s redemptive plan for the world, it is also the means whereby we are being restored and renewed as God’s image bearers, parents who have the privilege to point our children to the ultimate reality that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life.[6]

_________________________________

[1] Tedd Tripp, Shepherding a Child’s Heart

[2] Ephesians 6:4

[3] Proverbs 3:12,19; Hebrews 12:6

[4] Proverbs 13:24

[5] Proverbs 22:6

[6] John 14:6

This Christmas…

Christmas DeceitHow did we get to this place? We’ve been barrel-aged in idolatry and self-servitude.

Consume. Consume. CONSUME!

Enjoy. Enjoy. ENJOY!

But what eternal pleasures ever came out of a glass bottle? What high has ever lifted you up to the heavens—literally?

Why does a magical blend of plastic and silicon with a retina screen attached have so much of my attention? Why do I lust for the love of this world when I’ve got the love of the One whom created it?

The reality? I was born this way. I—am a worshipper.

As the self-proclaimed atheist David Foster Wallace declares, “There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships.”

We’ve just been deceived into believing that the patterns of this world (money, power, and respect) are greater than the presence of God. We’ve fled from His holy temple—His very presence—and headed for the house of Lady Folly (Proverb 9:13-18).

On repeat like a screamo song called “GIMME MORE,” our society has successfully evolved into a “consumer society.”

And do you know why? We love to consume things. To worship things. We love the stuff.

I love the stuff.

You and I—we—are full-time worshippers.

The question is: what do you worship?

In our day and age, it seems as if the mall is the new worship center, with materialism its god.

We rush to the newest stores for the latest gifts and toys of all sorts in hopes of presenting a worthy gift or sacrifice to our loved ones (or ourselves), while forgetting the God, our Heavenly Father, who gave us the gift and sacrifice of His only begotten Son—the greatest gift. He is the reason for the season.

How can we ever forget?

I’ll tell you …

We are worshipping as we are created to worship, just not the One we are created to worship.

We’ve been blinded to this truth. Deceived.

But be deceived no more, for He has shown Himself to us, in history past, and will show Himself again on the Day to come as revealed through the Word of God. John testifies to this in his first epistle, where he recalls for his readers the Jesus that they had saw, touched, and heard (1 John 1:1-4).

This Christmas, I want to remember the Son of God, who, though fully God, came down from the heavens in the form of a man to die for you and I; that we might be reconciled to God, and restored into His image and likeness.

Then let us respond, like the wise men, whom “when they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh” (Matthew 2:10-11 ESV).

They knew what Jesus would accomplish for them, why He had come, and they responded in the only acceptable way to respond: in joyful worship and adoration.

This Christmas, let’s rejoice “exceedingly with great joy” as we have an opportunity to give our body up as a “living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God,” to bow before His throne of grace, which is what it means to worship under the revelation of the Gospel. (Romans 12:1).

This Christmas, let’s remember and revere our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ the King.

Come let us adore Him and receive, in gladness, His glorious gift.

Why You Hate Successful People

mad-kidHave you ever encountered a person who is overly critical of successful people?

You know, the type of person that takes a successful individual, whether an artist or a pastor, and rips them apart as if they are intimately familiar with their life, outside of the public arena.

I have.

I’d say that I can’t stand those sorts of people, and even begin to criticize them as well, but I’ve come to realize that I’m that guy.

Throughout my 34-years of existence, I’ve become more self-aware of the fact that I have often criticized others, without having really known the person I am criticizing.

The successful rap artist, who is clearly a sellout.

The successful pastor with the mega-church in the suburbs, who, according to the omnipotent knowledge of Troy (pun intended), couldn’t give a rip about the marginalized of the city.

If I were the pastor, I’d lead better. If I were dropping albums like those guys, I’d remain true to Christ, and not sellout for the fortune and fame, like some people.

But the problem is, I’m not a pastor with a church. Nor am I an artist with worldwide influence.

I’m not those guys.

Besides, I have to ask myself: Self, how are you being faithful now with what God has given you to steward?

Andy Mineo, the rising star of Reach Records, rightfully exclaims: “our critics are just artists that never made it.”

Ouch.

But if we dig a little deeper into what the root of the issue is—aside from pride and the fact that they’ve made it, and you haven’t—what might we find?

Could it be that we are so insecure with our own identity that we thrive only on the flaws of others? As if pointing out their faults and frailties somehow minimizes our own and, in turn, makes us feel better about who we are or aren’t.

If only we had a true sense of what it means to be created in the image of God, we might find ourselves being secure in whom God has made us to be, while appreciating who others are also.

If we can learn anything from the Apostle Paul, in respect to identity, we learn that he was not a man who found his security in his religious stature, his Jewish heritage, his righteous deeds, or the successes of his missionary journeys.

Paul found his security and worth in Christ Jesus as Lord. (Philippians 3:8)

Even when it had been reported to Paul that some were preaching Christ “from envy and rivalry,” he didn’t criticize them, or attempt to demean the work that they were doing. No, in fact, Paul says that, regardless, “Christ is proclaimed, and in that [he rejoiced].” (Philippians 1:18)

When you find yourself in Christ, you become not only secure in who you are, but also more appreciative of what Christ is doing in and through others also. When you are in Christ, you can rejoice, like Paul, in the successes of others, without becoming their greatest critic.

Yes we are all sinners, broken people in need of a glorious Savior. We need Jesus. But, it is because of Jesus, and only because of Him, that we can boast in anything good that may come out of this life that God has given us. And anything bad in us, or coming out of us, well, that just further illustrates our need for Jesus!

So, instead of criticizing your leaders, maybe examine your own heart and pray that God show you what’s behind the curtain of your critical spirit.

Instead of criticizing the faithful and the fruitful of their shortcomings, maybe you could pray for them instead. I think that’s somewhere in the Bible—the holy, inspired, authoritative, and sufficient word of God—we profess to believe.

That is, assuming you believe.

Hey, Christian: Ditch the Car and Take the Bus

maxresdefaultSince your reading this, I assume you were intrigued enough to find out what sort of rant I’m on now. “Surely he isn’t saying that Christians should get rid of their cars,” you say. Of course I’m not. But I am saying that you should ditch your car once in a while and discover the joys of public transportation.

We live in a happy-meal society that tends to want everything quick and easy. We’re always aiming for what’s more efficient.

So, you hop in your car and head for work in the morning, taking the freeway to avoid stopping at every red light that just seems to be waiting for you to show up. Then you punch-out from your 9-to-5, get back into your car, head home, eat dinner with the family, and then kick your feet up to watch the evening edition of SportsCenter.

Or maybe you’re the Christian who attends every church service, hosts a community group, and can always be found studying the Puritans at the local Christian-owned coffee shop.

So, what’s the problem, you ask? Nothing, if you enjoy existing in your own little homogenous community. But, if you wish to be faithful to tell the world the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and make disciples, that’s going to require venturing to the other side of the tracks, where Cross-necklaces and fish-tattoos are virtually non-existent.

Recently, I decided that I was going to occasionally start taking the bus to work. In doing so, I have rediscovered my fondness for public transportation and am reminded of, at least, three reasons why taking the bus—especially for Christians, and anyone in some sort of ministerial role—is a must:

1. Able to Meet People Who Aren’t Like You

It’s true. If you ride your local city bus, you’re going to meet people who do not believe what you believe, think the way that you think, or look the way that you look. This can serve as an incredible opportunity to catch a glimpse of reality—outside of the realm of Christendom.

2. Raises Your Cultural Awareness

The more time you spend out of the world, the more removed you are from the world’s struggles, and the less compassionate you become. I find that as I enter in to conversations with people who are as screwed up—or worse—as I was, back in the day, the more I am reminded of God’s incredible grace in my own life. Such a thing compels me to want to learn more about others, in light of God’s own love for me.

It’s easy to say that the “problem is sin” (though it certainly is), yet have not a clue as to how or why any one particular sin manifests itself within a given context. We must learn to become “all things to all people, that by all means [we] might save some” (1 Cor. 9:22 ESV). It’s not about compromise; it’s about concerning ourselves with God’s own concern for His glory, and the salvation of the world. And sometimes, that means laying aside our own preferences and presuppositions for the sake of others.

3. Creates Opportunity to Share the Gospel

Just the other day I was having a conversation with a guy in his twenties and somehow my occupation came up (I’m an IT professional). This led to me being able to share my life journey, including the way in which God saved me. He then opened up to me, telling me about how he had wasted his life on drugs (addicted to Oxycodone), and had now been clean for six months. I prayed with him, and for him, that God would make him alive, together with Christ, and we parted ways. Who knows, I may see him at church this Sunday!

The point is, how can we proclaim the good news of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ if we do not position ourselves in a place to do so?

Let’s be intentional.

After all, God was intentional when He sent His Son to live among us, to teach us, and to die for us, despite His disdain and deep hatred for sin and evil. Imagine how He felt being around people like us, who spit in His face daily through the way that we live? (And yet we have the audacity to get undone in the presence of “sinners”).

Let us go, in love, like Christ, and do likewise. Don’t be afraid, just ride the bus!

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I’m not saying that this is the only way to accomplish what I’ve laid out, I’m only merely pointing out what an incredible means the public transportation system can be to further the cause of Christ, and, if nothing else, enjoy some good conversation with people outside of your own comfort zone. 

It’s Not About Social Justice

SUNY_Protest_IV

My wife and I are like any other married couple; we’ve got issues. Those issues, if not taken care of, hinder us from growing in our relationship with one another. When my wife confronts me about my anger or my pride, her motivation stems from a desire to grow closer to me, not necessarily just for the sake of me repenting so we can go about our own peaceful, separate ways.

She wants to be reconciled, but my behavior keeps reconciliation and growth from happening.

Similarly, God has also been motivated by His love and desire to reconcile us to Himself. After all, “for God so loved the world, that He sent His Son” to bear the burden of punishment for our sin against Him. Yes, God’s justice demanded that we (or Somebody) pay for such a cosmic rebellion; however, God’s love provided for us a way out of eternal damnation, and a way back to the Garden, and into the presence of God. Indeed, this was God’s motivation: to reconcile the world to Himself, so that He would be our God, and we would be His people, and he would dwell with us (Exodus 6:7, Leviticus 26:12 Jeremiah 30:22, 2 Corinthians 6:16, Revelation 21). He did so, because He loves us.

When God gave His covenant community Israel the Ten Commandments, as recorded in Deuteronomy 5:7-21, He began in verse 6 by declaring that “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” God establishes His relationship with His covenant people as a motivation for obedience. He did so because disobedience disrupts our relationship with God. Likewise, our disobedience and sinfulness towards one another disrupts our ability to reconcile, as called through the Gospel of Christ, and outlined in passages such as 2 Corinthians 5:11-21. We are called to be ministers of reconciliation. God calls us to be motivated by His own example of love for us, despite our flaws and failings, to love others also, irrespective of any wrongdoings.

After all, God pursued each and every one of us, prior to our own acknowledgment of indwelling sinfulness, and even the recognition of our own need for reconciliation to God.

If our motivation for confronting the sins of others ends at others ceasing from sinning against us, then we’ve stopped short of what the Gospel is all about—that is, reconciliation.

With all of the talks addressing social injustices, I can’t help but wonder what our real motivation is. Do we desire to combat societal ills for the sake of maintaining our own peaceful little exclusive communities, or, do we, like God, desire to be reconciled to one another and view issues such as classism and racism as impediments to Gospel-centered reconciliation?

Are we seeking to raise our voices and stake our claims in the battle against injustice, as if we can some how earn our way into the Do-Gooders Hall of Fame?

It’s not about social justice. Social justice is merely a means towards reconciliation, similar to how our reconciliation with God would not have been possible, had not justice been satisfied through Christ becoming the propitiation for our sins. But justice is not the end-all. The motivating factor behind it all, at least between God and us, is love and a desire to be reconciled. Martin Luther King Jr. once said:

Justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.

 

When Gospel-centered reconciliation through love is not at the heart of our motivations, then we remain an irreconcilable people, filled with hatred and bitterness towards one another, masked in the form of “social justice.” Churches rise up against churches, cultures against cultures, overcome by pride and self-seeking agendas. Neither parties willing to set aside self for the sake of listening to one another, forgiving one another, and moving towards the beauty of inclusive community.

If reconciliation is not our end-goal, then we are not reflecting the image of our Maker (Col. 3:11-15).

If we, as the church, truly desire to see the end of social injustice, we must first, and foremost, understand that our eschatological hope must remain in Christ, without whom such an achievement would be impossible.

Secondly, we must be motivated by the same selfless, sacrificial, take-a-loogie-to-the-face sort of love that Christ loved us with—and died for us for.

Such a love will be willing to listen, to understand that it is not always about being understood, and that cultural intelligence and empathy needs to go both ways.

Sure, we want people to understand us, and what we are going through, but are we taking the time to understand them?

We must acknowledge the existence and sensitivity of issues such as systemic racism, and be willing to admit, like Andy Mineo, “my own people, owned people, but they won’t own that” (from the song Uncomfortable).

At the same time, we must also, from all sides of the spectrum, agree that the grace of God is greater than even the sin of racism, and therefore forgiveness for one another for the sake of reconciliation must not be out of range.

Recently, I was deeply convicted by my bitterness toward “conservative evangelicals.” Though somewhat theologically aligned, I constantly felt as if I did not fit in, and that they did not understand where I came from, nor even cared.

I was an “other.”

But it goes both ways, as I was just as guilty in judging them as I perceived them to be judging me.

It took a willingness on my part, and the love of Christ, to allow me to press in, and learn to humble myself through setting aside my cultural presuppositions in order to genuinely pursue relationship with my brothers and sisters in Christ, despite our differences.

I’m glad I did.

In doing so, not only have my relationships with believers and unbelievers alike, improved across the board, but also I’ve learned a lot about my own identity, and have found great security and solace in Christ.

My prayer, for us all, is that we would be compelled by the love of God to love others, and so much as it depends upon us, seek in every way possible to understand and be reconciled to one another.

In the end, love alleviates injustice.

 

The Joyless Joys of Godlessness

City of God

Jobless man

I ought to be satisfied by now. You would assume that after years of filling in the ________’s of my heart’s desires, that they would have ultimately produced a joy that quenched the inner thirsting of my soul. Yet, here I am. Still wanting. Still dissatisfied with my 9-to-5 little prison.

Still, unhappily married while staring at Jezebel’s digital screen of pornographic false-promises, hoping to find solace through the sensations of extra-marital sex while, still, yearning.

It’s like I am running a marathon on a treadmill, expecting to get somewhere.

I work harder, and longer, so I can buy more stuff, and yet even when I have more stuff, I hardly enjoy it.

Sound familiar?

What’s missing? What’s missing from this mirage called “life”?

If my senses were created to dance in delight, by nature, then my Creator has created me to enjoy the world wherein He has placed me.

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Why Won’t I Speak Up Against Abortion?

 

Abortion is not an option it’s a travesty. I know it, and you know it. Heck, even liberal activists and politicians know it, choosing, rather, to suppress it. After all, dollars make sense, right?

But why do I avoid the subject? Why not join in with the rest of my brothers and sisters in publicly exposing this injustice for what it really is: murder.

It’s not because I’m insensitive, or just flat out don’t care.

It’s because I’m ashamed.

It’s because I’m a murderer.

Before the Gospel of Jesus Christ arrested my heart, I was involved sexually with a young woman who had loved me endlessly. She would do anything for me. As our relationship progressed, so I began to take more advantage of her.

I didn’t want her hand in marriage; I wanted to trample over her purity for the pleasure of my own pride, because that’s what I thought it meant to be a man. Sexual activity and performance was directly tied to my identity as a man. I wanted to enjoy the pleasures of manhood, without assuming the responsibility of manhood.

The end-result? Four counts of cowardly murder against innocent little lives, which never stood a chance and never got to hope or dream… or breath.

I am a murderer.

That’s a hard pill to swallow.

And with every assault against abortion on social media, in our churches, and on freeway billboards, I am reminded of my past shameful actions.

But that’s not the Gospel I received from the Word of Christ. And that’s not who I am today, thanks be to God.

But it got me thinking. Maybe I am desensitized to the horrors of abortion, and its negative implications on our society at large. And what about those young men and women who are growing up in a similar context as once did I, impoverished and hopeless, struggling to survive this thing we call “life”? For babies having babies from broken homes, it’s scary. Without having a father to show us how to be a father, we run from fatherhood, out of fear of failing and becoming just like the father we never had.

The truth of the matter is that we can sign a thousand petitions and argue our points into legislation, but unless we address the root of it all, the problem will remain.

So, I ask the question: what can we do?

Maybe we can begin by paying better attention to our children, and being intentional in identifying the fatherless so that we, the fathers of this generation, can do a better job at showing our young boys what it looks like to be a man.

Show our young men what it looks and feels like to walk a woman down the aisle rather than dropping her off at an abortion clinic, while cowering in the comfort of drugs and alcohol, never really escaping the look of horror and devastation that swept across her face, as you left her to be stripped of the life growing within her (a look–forgiven or not–that I will never forget). Taking a part of her, as well.

So we can show our young girls their worth, and what sort of qualities and characteristics they should be looking for when it comes time to identify that future husband.

So we can teach young men and women alike, that sex is not a game, but a molding of the souls, an intimate oneness to be enjoyed by husband and wife, with the intention of bearing a child, raising a child, and finally, sending a young man or woman to go, and do likewise.

Pro-creation is essential to our existence, and an integral part of who God has created us to be, in His likeness, as creators, also.

God created us to create, not to destroy.

But again, I pose the question: how did we, as a society, get to the point where which we can call murder an “option”? And how can we, as Christians, combat this assault against the image of God, through more than just grassroots efforts? Is there a reason why most Planned Parenthood and other abortion clinics are located in and near impoverished communities? How, in our own little world and in our own little way, can we help?

Think about it. Pray bout it. Do something about it.

 

 

Farewell Southern Seminary: A Bitter Departure Home, Sweet Home

maxresdefaultBitter sweet. As cliché as that may sound, it’s the only way I know how to describe what I am feeling.

One year ago, my family and I left everything, including those closest to us, in California, and headed for Louisville, Kentucky. Admittedly, I was as giddy as a Toys ‘R’ Us kid on a mega-shopping-spree. I was in theological heaven, and I was determined to learn from some of the greatest evangelical minds of our day.

But God…

During our time with Southern, I suddenly and progressively began experiencing a deeper awareness of my own spiritual stagnancy. As close as I felt to God in my mind, I was even further away from Him in my heart.

I began to notice how I had slid downward on a spiral of isolation and prayerlessness. It’s almost as if, for the last few years, I’ve had an Elijah experience on repeat:

“And he asked that he might die, saying, ‘It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” – 1 Kings 19:4

The problem was, unlike Elijah, I had failed to allow the angels of God to minister to me, to nourish me and rejuvenate my soul.

Rather than face all of my past fears and failures, and take ownership of them, I suppressed them and avoided them, hoping to move on to a greater spiritual awakening. But only, I didn’t know how. I was stuck between the wall of my past, and the wall of my present.

I desired to be a better husband, a better father, and a better disciple, but avoided the relational intimacy that each of those roles require. Sure, I could play the extrovert, and have you believing that I was good at this whole “relationship” thing. But that could not be further from the truth.

The truth is, I suck at relationships. I tend to be whom you want me to be, in the moment, so as to advance my own agenda.

So, why did I go to Southern Seminary?

I do feel called to the pastorate. To preach and teach the Word of God and see others come alive, together with Christ. I knew that Southern Seminary provided top-notch theological education, and so that is where I was determined to go.

Amidst my short time here at Southern, however, I’ve learned far more than any classroom could provide. I look around and see brothers who are not only passionate about the Gospel, but brothers who are passionate about biblical manhood.

I look around and see the time and the sacrifices that they have made for their wives, and sons, and daughters—how they love them with the love of Christ—and can’t help but notice how it all points back to the love of our Father who is in Heaven. I sat through chapel services and heard some of the greatest preachers I’ve ever heard, humbly proclaim a crucified Christ, and God’s sacrificial love for us.

Conviction began to set in, and I couldn’t help but to feel as if I was not being the father I ought to be. What was I doing here, in Louisville, while my children were growing up without me, 2000 miles away?

Suppose I graduate with my Master of Divinity, and go on to plant a budding church, or step into a pastorate at some mega-church along the Bible Belt down South. What would I have gained if my children had grown up bitter towards Father God because their only connection to Him was through their own father, who had abandoned them for the sake of “ministry”?

My family is my first ministryHow can I evangelize and disciple my children if I am ever so absent from their lives?

It is not a matter of being in the wrong or being in the right, it is a matter of being in Christ, and becoming who God has created me to be. God has created me to be a husband, a father, and a son. How could I ever honor God through the pastorate, if I fail to honor God in my marriage and in my relationship with my children?

So, I received a job offer in Fresno, the city where my children reside. Sure the cost of living is higher. Sure I’d be leaving one of the greatest seminaries in the world.

But, it is one of the greatest seminaries in the world that God has used to bring me to this very conclusion: I need to love and lay down my life for my family and friends in the same way that God has done for me.

I need to meet my kids where they are at so that they will understand the God I serve, and His great love for us.

Though we will deeply miss the church that we have grown to love, the work—here at Southern—that I feel serves the greater cause of Christ, and the friends that we have come to know, God has used Southern Seminary to prepare us for such a time as this.

Farewell, friends, at Southern, and thank you for the light you shine. We are forever grateful for the work you do.

With that said, we’re going back to Cali.